INCARNATION – a new evolutionary threshold

As the importance of the search for structures of inclusive justice behind all PUBLIC POLICY, grows slowly – but faster than steadily – it seems ever more vital to be open to a more profound contemporary expression of our Christian Faith. To that end it would be of great value in our networking for mutual strength and encouragement to have your response to the key extract herewith:  see belowIt is from the recent book ‘INCARNATION – A New Evolutionary Threshold‘  by Diarmuid O’Murchu,  a Roman Catholic,  who is more significantly, a catholic or universalist. Please, please, read it and comment  as a shared response within our network………. for the advancement of our quest for the relevance of the inseparable commands/ commitments to ‘love God and neighbour’ and for an authentic translation in our time of pursuing and activating the concept and the action behind ‘Thy Kingdom come: thy will be done.’ in an integrated PUBLIC POLICY – one such as ICUK is daring to propose (www.icuk.info). 

Yours in the service of this sacred planet earth, Peter

WHAT IS EVOLUTION ABOUT?
From Chap. 2: ‘INCARNATION: a New Evolutionary Threshold.’ 
Only in the closing decades of the twentieth century did evolution and religion begin to mix. To one degree or another, all the religions convey the sense of a God who does not change and remains steadfast, the same yesterday, today, and forever. And by implication, authentic religion cannot change either; truth is unalterable. Today rapidly growing numbers of people no longer hold these views and are no longer drawn to a religion of fixity and rigid doctrinal truths. Evolution has entered even religious discourse, and evolution denotes change, fluidity, and flexibility. To begin with, I will briefly indicate what I mean by an evolutionary perspective, highlighting the following characteristics that are central to the exploration of this book.• Aliveness. Over the past twenty years, our understanding of aliveness has changed dramatically. The propensity for aliveness is no longer reserved to the human, deemed to be superior to all other life-forms. On the contrary, we know that everything that constitutes our embodiment as earthlings is given to us from earth itself, as a living organism, itself energized from the larger cosmic web of life. In theological terms, it is the Holy Spirit who enlivens all that exists (cf. Boff 2015; Haughey 2015). In this context, Incarnation cannot be reserved to one outstanding human-like divine figure; the primary Incarnation of the Holy One in our midst is in creation itself. Much more controversial, and quite new in theological discourse, is our evolving understanding of the Holy Spirit, the One that has traditionally been relegated to a third place, dependent on Father (Creator) and Son (Redeemer) having first done their work, but increasingly being understood as the one who energizes all forms of aliveness (everything in creation), even what we attribute to the Father and Son (see Chapter 3).

• Emergence. The all-embracing sense of aliveness unfolds along an evolutionary trajectory that transcends simple cause and effect, with a sense of direction that is open and unpredictable, always evolving into greater complexity (for further elaboration, see Stewart 2000; Delio 2015). The culture of patriarchal certainty, and hierarchical ordering (including that of the doctrine of the Trinity), is increasingly understood as an anthropocentric projection that alienates humans precisely by separating us from the womb of our becoming and attributing to us an elevated status increasingly viewed as exploitative and dangerous. We have ended up with a perverted anthropology, which has seriously distorted how we perceive and understand the humanity of Jesus, with consequent deviations in how we understand the notion of Incarnation.

Paradox. Creation’s evolutionary unfolding is endowed with the paradoxical interplay of creation-cum-destruction, an unceasing cyclic rhythm of birth—death—rebirth. Major religions tend to dismiss this paradox as a fundamental flaw requiring divine salvific intervention, particularly through the death and Resurrection of the historical Jesus. A deeper appreciation of this enduring paradox (cf. Chapter 7) alters significantly our understanding of suffering in the world. In the future, our commitment must be one of getting rid of all meaningless suffering, facilitated through a more forthright commitment to peace, justice, and the integrity of God’s creation. And this challenge expands the incarnational landscape far beyond the narrow anthropocentric context of conventional Christianity.

Lateral Thinking. Much of Christian theology, and the ensuing spirituality, is defined and described in terms of classical Greek metaphysics, rational thought, and logical argument. It is a linear, sequential process favored by  dominant males seeking control and mastery through rational discourse. It is a strategy alien to evolutionary unfolding, lacking in the creativity, imagination, and intuition necessary to apprehend the complexities of this age and every other. Beyond the traditional affiliation with scholastic philosophy, theology must now embrace a multidisciplinary dynamic to engage the lateral consciousness of the twenty-first century, that expansive quality of awareness so typical of the wise elders.

• Consciousness. The metaphysical worldview also favored the philosophy of divide and conquer, thus segmenting wisdom and knowledge into binary opposites (dualisms) and uniform categories, alien to the multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary philosophy of our age. According to this latter view, a multidisciplinary perspective is necessary to comprehend the complex mysterious nature of all living reality. Consequently, scripture scholars, in particular, are increasingly adopting a multidisciplinary orientation in their research and discernment, embracing a range of social sciences as well as the wisdom of ancient history and the corroborative evidence of archaeological discoveries; for the theological implications, see Kelly (2015). Contrary to the fear of several fundamentalists, such a broad interdisciplinary base—a new quality of consciousness—does not diminish the truth of faith but for a growing body of adult faith seekers enriches and deepens their spirituality.

• Spirituality. All over the contemporary world, mainline religion is in recession (with the possible exception of Islam), yielding pride of place either to more amorphous spiritual offshoots or to violent ideologies that will eventually destroy the very religion they seek to safeguard and promote. Nearly all formal religious traditions embody imperial sentiment, a derogatory view of creation, and a distinctly male, patriarchal bias. An alternative spiritual hunger has surfaced (and has been suppressed) many times in the history of the great religions; it sometimes morphs into a phenomenon known as mysticism, which enjoys a distinctive revival in recent decades (cf. Johnson and Ord 2012). Under this novel spiritual development, Incarnation takes on an expansive meaning beyond its conventional Christian significance.

Cooperation. From a human perspective, evolution is not solely dependent on the survival of the fittest, but rather on the triumph of cooperation. For John Stewart (2000) cooperation is evolution’s arrow: “Cooperators will inherit the earth, and eventually the universe” (Stewart 2000, 8). However, it has to be a quality of cooperation that can embrace and integrate legitimate self-interest. This is the kind of integration that wise elders desire. And it is remarkably similar to the supreme goal of both Judaism and Christianity: Love God! And to do that, one has to love the neighbor, which is only genuinely possible when we learn to love ourselves (cf. Lv 19:18; Mk12:29-30). Genuine self-interest is not contrary to faith in God, or to faith in evolution; it is the prerequisite for both.

Discernment. As already indicated in Chapter 1, Christian discernment describes the human effort to discover, appropriate, and integrate God’s desires for our growth and development as people of faith. In its popular (Ignatian) sense, it is very much an individual process between the person and God, with the spiritual director acting as a guide or facilitator. Group discernment is a more loosely defined process often invoked at religious gatherings and in areas of pastoral accountability (see Liebert 2015). In the ecclesiastical context, discernment is understood to be the divinely bestowed prerogative of the teaching authority of the church—to which all other forms of discernment need to be accountable. In a world and church becoming increasingly suspicious of the integrity and truth of institutional guidance, the task of discernment for the future will become much more localized, dialogically mediated, and informed by the skills and wisdom of systems theory (in other words, multidisciplinary). Increasingly, personal and group discernment will interweave, with wisdom from the ground up, commanding much stronger credibility than that which comes from the top down. Theological and scriptural insight will no longer be seen as a reserve of the academic scholar, but rather a dialogical process, reclaiming and reviving the often neglected notion of the sensus fidelium.

Our evolutionary propensities mark a seismic shift from a worldview in which we were “captivated by the spell of solidity, the fallacy of fixity, the illusion of immobility, the semblance of stasis, but the evolution revolution is starting to break that spell. We are realizing that we are, in fact, not standing on solid ground. But neither are we adrift in a meaningless universe. . . . We are part and parcel of a vast process of becoming.” (Phipps 2012, 26). Phipps (2012, 32) goes on to identify three characteristics common to evolutionary thinkers (and to the wise elders) of the twenty-first century:

• Evolutionaries are cross-disciplinary generalists.

 They develop the capacity to cognize the vast timescales of our evolutionary history. They embody a new spirit of optimism.

And this spirit of optimism is one important dimension of the spiritual convergence characterizing our time. Sometimes, scientists are ahead of religionists in viewing a spiritual way forward: “In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in the connections that might serve to reunify the scientific world-view with the religious instinct. Much of the discussion is tentative, and the difficulties in finding an accommodation remain daunting, but it is more than worth the effort. In my opinion, it will be our lifeline” (Conway Morris 2003, 328).

Jesus in an Evolutionary Context

Throughout this book, I embrace an evolutionary imperative, supporting the view that evolution is central to our understanding of life at every level. Volumes have been written on evolution, and much of it is narrowly and ideologically defined in neo-Darwinian terms. For the present work, I wish to transcend much of the sophisticated rhetoric and get straight to the core elements of growth—change—development. These three words captivate the deep truth of what we mean by evolution but also the core dynamics of incarnational development:

  • Everything within and around us grows; that seems an indisputable fact of the natural and human worlds. 
  • We perceive change all around us, and this involves decline and death. Such disintegration is not an evil, nor is it the consequence of sin (cf. Rom 6:23), but a God-given dimension of all creation.
  • I also adopt a key insight of the philosopher Karl Popper, and articulated anew by the contemporary theologian John E Haught (2010, 2015), that the direction of evolution takes shape primarily in response to the lure of the future and not merely solidifying what has served us well in the past. In the words of John Haught (2015, 52): “Evolution, viewed theologically, means that creation is still happening and that God is creating and saving the world not a retro, that is, by pushing it forward out of the past, but ab ante, by calling it from up ahead.” Theologically, I understand that the central attraction of the lure of the future is a fruit and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

Now we come to a critical question that, undoubtedly, readers will have already raised: Are we trying to force Jesus (and our Christian faith) into yet another cultural ghetto, or does the authentic Jesus—historically and Christologically—belong to an evolutionary context, which conventional Christian scholarship  has long ignored, or underestimated? Can Jesus be re-visioned within the evolutionary process of growth—change—development instead of the time frame of Greek metaphysics and other cultural impositions from a past that largely resists change and growth? And while Christian scholarship tends to judge truth and authenticity by fidelity to an unchanging and unchangeable past, might it be possible that Jesus represents for Christians an open-ended future forever awaiting fuller realization?

Comments are closed.